Crazy 12-string part 4 – inlays and completion


There are many reasons why I call this guitar crazy, and one of those is the inlays. The first inspiration for these was actually a flaw in the fretboard – I think it was a piece that chipped out when I was first planing in the radius. It was in an awkward place, but I figured out that if I did a sort of ‘tree of life’ inlay, that would hide it. Talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut!

There was another, more sensible reason for doing a complex set of inlays, which was simply to practice my techniques. Inlays are not easy, and it’s a topic that we didn’t spend a lot of time on during my courses. I therefore felt that this was a good platform for trying out some techniques and seeing what worked.

The traditional tree of life inlays are far too elaborate for my current skill level, but I came up with a simplified design that was based around some of my existing design principles. First of all, I put a few branches going down the fretboard, which were to be thin pieces of padauk. The rest of the inlays would be features on each of the key frets (3, 5, 7 etc. as usual). My signature inlay, which goes on all of my guitars, is an oak leaf (coming from my surname), and so this was a central feature. This led logically to an acorn, and that to a squirrel! Continuing the nature theme, I added a couple of flowers, a pair of cherries (because my girlfriend loves cherries) and a couple of birds, as a small homage to PRS guitars. Lastly, the 12th fret inlay was a sun with rays coming out, which was a reference to my Sunrise build.

The initial design for the inlays, in white pencil

I started by inlaying the branches. This was already quite challenging, since they had to be fairly thin and I had some small pieces coming off each branch, to make them actually look like branches rather than just lines.

The branches, inlaid in padauk

In the picture above, as well as the branches, you can see the holes that I had prepared for the sun inlay. All of the other inlays were made from pieces of mother of pearl (MOP). I decided to keep them all in one colour to prevent the inlays from being too garish. I drew them out on pieces of paper which I glued to the MOP, and then cut them out carefully with a jeweler’s saw. The holes in the fretboard were firstly made using my Proxxon multitool with a router base, and then refined with a small chisel and a scalpel.

I reckon that the inlays took me between 30 and 40 hours, but I’m pleased with the result. There is a long way to go in this area, but I think they are pretty successful. You might notice that some of the design changed a bit from the initial concept – the main change was moving the squirrel, because he was too fat to go on a higher fret!

All of the finished inlays!

The inlay process is shown in another of my video episodes.


Once the inlays were done, I could install the frets and then glue the cap on the body. After quite a lot more preparation (lots of sanding!), I was ready to stain the body. Since there were so many outlandish aspects to this build, I wanted the stain to be rather traditional and familiar, so I based it around a cherry burst. I achieved this by staining the top in yellow, and then using orange and then red, and merging them together to create a smooth burst.

I also decided to do something similar on the back, but I made it darker, removing the yellow centre and just making it red and orange.

Again, the staining process is best documented in my video on that topic. The pictures below show the finished products.

The top, at the end of the staining process
The back, looking rather dramatic with the strong grain pattern and the red/orange burst!


Once the guitar was stained, I could finish it and install the hardware. I went with a mix of gold and chrome hardware, even going so far as to alternate gold and chrome machine heads. I was afraid that this would look bad, but in the end I really like it! The headstock is huge, since it has to support 12 strings, but the alternating colours help to make it look better.

The completed headstock

The little scroll at the end of the headstock was surprisingly tricky, but it looks nice. Finally, here is a picture of the completed guitar!


You can see the control panel, which sits on the two posts and comes out to give access to the electronics. The soundhole is the same shape as the control panel, to balance the body. The spacing and alignment of the 12 strings were easy because they were automatically set in place by the bridge and the nut (I bought a 12-string nut rather than trying to make one), and the guitar plays extremely well. It’s a pain to tune it, but that’s just because of the 12 strings and not because of any defect in the guitar.

There are a few very small issues in the final instrument. I had to fill a couple of gaps around the neck where it joined the body, and I will admit that the inlays do look a bit blocky and amateurish. Nevertheless, I’m really pleased with this guitar. It was a whacky concept with a lot of new ideas for me, but it worked out very well.